June 4, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 68°F


Let there be music

In Ford Hall on Sunday, Adam arose from the dirt in the Garden of Eden. Brought to life by the low tones of the bassoon, he slowly awoke and was joined by a parade of dancers as birds and gazelles. Together, they leapt and spun across the stage. A silent audience sat enraptured not only by his dance, but by the music being played behind him.
This was the work of senior Naomi Williams, a music composition major in the School of Music whose senior recital was held Sunday. She not only used instruments and song to express herself, but also recruited 13 classically trained ballet dancers. Her recital included the talents of more than 40 people. It was a spectacle that around 100 people attended and earned Williams a standing ovation.
While all seniors are required to put together a recital, Williams’ use of ballet made hers different. Four of her pieces were performed at the recital, including the finale, “Garden of Eden.” She said she drew inspiration for it from her religious background.
“I [wanted] to write a chamber orchestra piece, and I [wanted] it to have a Biblical theme,” she said. “The first thing that popped into my mind was the Garden of Eden.”
Senior Jackie Scahill, a dancer in the performance who helped choreograph the recital, said getting so many people organized for the performance was a major achievement in itself.
“She amazes me,” she said. “I’m really impressed with what she’s done.”
Williams has been working on the recital since the summer. She sent out e-mails and phone calls in search of ballet dancers, recruited orchestra members until last week and held rehearsals with all the musical ensembles.
“One piece took me six months to write,” she said.
Devin Hughes, a graduate student in the School of Music, conducted the recital. He said her work was impressive. He also noted the originality of her work.
“A lot of times you get beginning composers’ works and there’s a lot of problems with them,” he said. “Her piece has a lot of beautiful and unrecognizable elements.”
Williams plays piano, clarinet and double bass. She also sang in the choir during her piece titled “Psalms of David” at Sunday’s recital and traveled to Ireland in 2005 with the Ithaca Women’s Chorale.
Williams didn’t always know her calling was music, though she grew up in what she called a “music-oriented” family in Kingston, N.Y.
“I’ve loved music since I was very young,” she said.
Williams said she realized she had a knack for creating music, and so she learned to compose.
“I would hear music in my head, and I knew I had to figure out how to do it on paper,” she said.
Williams said she sees composition as another means of communication to tell a story. She came to Ithaca College to study composition in fall 2003.
During her first year, Williams was the only freshman to have a piece featured in the yearly Collaborative Composition Recital held in the School of Music. Since then, she has won the Hockett Composition Award and has continued to improve her composition skills. Dana Wilson, professor of music theory, history and composition, said he has been impressed with her perseverance and growth. He has been Williams’ professor for four years.
“She’s developed enormously since she’s been here,” Wilson said. “It’s been great having her in the program.”
She said she likes to compose music that has a specific storyline or idea behind it, as her “Garden of Eden” piece did.
“I could read someone the book of Genesis, or I could tell the story through music, which is a lot more interesting,” she said.
Williams was not always confident in her skills as a composer. She said 90 percent of the time she felt unsure about her work.
“As well as pressure from professors, I put a lot of pressure on myself,” she said. “Composition is a constant creative process, and it takes a lot out of you.”
This doesn’t mean Williams never has any fun. Senior Lori Bonin has known Williams for four years and considers her a good friend.
“She has all of this life in her,” Bonin said. “She’s a lot of fun to be around and has a great sense of humor.”
Williams is also involved in Students for Christ and is the philanthropy chair of the Sigma Alpha Iota music fraternity on campus. She is organizing a talent show to benefit inner-city music programs.
In the future, Williams plans to attend graduate school before becoming a professional composer. She said she hopes to hold a position where she can combine her music with the visual arts.
Wilson said he believes she will be successful.
“In a field dominated by men, it’s been a challenge for her, but I definitely see her doing well in the future,” he said.
And just as she did with her senior recital, Williams is prepared to meet any challenges head-on in order to do what she loves.
“It’s one thing to write music,” she said. “But to see it come to life through dancing and colors and music and costumes — that’s amazing.”